January - August 2020, 8 months


UX, Visual Design, Research, Project Management


Angelina Thomas, Ben Stone,
Connie Chau, Paul Myers

Designing inclusive and accessible online recovery communities

About 1 out of every 7 young adults in the United States have a substance use disorder - nearly double the percentage of adults over age 25. Addiction takes the lives of thousands every year, while the stigma of addiction further isolates those that endure living with it.

As part of our Master’s capstone, my team worked for our clients -- Oasis Recovery Center and Biomotivate -- to create LiveLine, a live streaming platform providing accessible support and resources for people with addictions. LiveLine creates communities for those that don’t fit into the current system of addiction treatment.

The Problem

Through our research, observations, and 68 interviews, we identified key problems in the addiction treatment industry:


It’s difficult for young adults to find recovery communities for their age group.


People struggle to manage cravings, withdrawals, and triggers when recovering from an addiction.


COVID-19 exacerbates the inaccessibility of timely addiction support for young adults.

Our Solution

LiveLine supports people in

recovery anytime, anywhere

with live streaming

Find commonalities with others that go beyond a shared addiction.

With LiveLine, communities aren’t limited by physical proximity. Instead, they can form over special interests, demographics, and beliefs, all while having the option to maintain anonymity.

Use journaling and mood tracking to identify triggers and root causes of substance use.

Self-awareness can help anyone form a plan for encountering triggers, avoiding them when possible, and even healing from past traumas.

Receive support 24/7 with different options for different situations.

At any hour of the day, LiveLine users can talk on a hotline, get signs of an overdose, or reach out to your community judgement-free.

Our Process

Our team's process consisted of exploring the domain, defining the problem, ideating, and refining the solution.

During the 8 month span of the project, I did project management for the first half, contributed to research throughout, and helped lead the project’s UX and UI designs.

Exploring the Domain

Our team went to a drug court session, sober living home, treatment center, and 14 different peer support groups to familiarize ourselves with the domain.

Content Warning:

Drugs, death, relapse, depression, withdrawal

Below are screenshots taken of posts in addiction-related Reddit communities. They contain imagery and stories that may be triggering to readers.

Once we understood the current system of treatment, we turned to Reddit to hear the anonymous stories of people who aren’t currently being helped.

We went to Reddit because of the large, anonymous addiction communities it hosts (over 100,000 people are in r/opiates alone). I started digital eavesdropping (aka lurking) on these sub-communities, including r/opiates, r/heroin, r/opiatesmemorial.

We made our own posts to interview people about their addiction.

We conducted interviews over Zoom and didn’t collect any identifying information.

Defining the problem

We synthesized our research through a journey map and chose two key moments to focus on.

This helped us form key insights around a more specific problem and target demographic.

Many people don’t feel comfortable attending peer support groups despite their benefits.

Those who have a positive experience at their first meeting can form life-long communities. However, attendees are mostly older men, and most groups are 12-step programs, which emphasize giving into a higher power. For people such as young adults, women, and athiests, it can be difficult to feel comfortable attending for the first time. In-person meetings also require being in a room of strangers (or worse, people that may recognize you), plus the means to get there.

Design Decision: Our designs should help people join or form communities.

Learning to manage relapses and the triggers that cause them is key to long-term recovery.

Relapses are hugely destructive - especially in isolation. The fear and despair caused by relapse further feeds into the hopelessness that makes recovery seem impossible. Relapses can occur even after years of sobriety, especially when a stressful event occurs, such as a death, change in job, or divorce.

Design Decision: Our design should give people immediate access to short and long-term support for managing triggers, cravings, and relapses.

Young adults are the hardest hit but most underserved

Despite the fact that young adults are nearly twice as likely to have an addiction than those over 25, only 12% of Alcoholics Anonymous members were under the age of 30 in their latest survey. Many of the young adults we spoke to were often turned off by the religious language of 12-Step programs. These programs also often have dated websites, and sometimes require making a phone call to get more information. This is more likely to turn off young adults used to modern user interfaces.

Design Decision: Our solution should be a digital touch point flexible to different beliefs.


With our design decisions in mind, our team rapidly ideated sketches and storyboards.


Initial sketches




Feedback Sessions

We narrowed down our concepts first internally, and then by sharing them with our target demographic for feedback.

From initial sketches to expanded storyboards, we narrowed down our concepts as a team by discussing each idea, and then using dot-voting to democratically decide which aligns best with our design goals. The storyboards illustrated the context, problem, solution and resolution-- our feedback sessions with our target demographic allowed us to first verify that the problem exists, and then gauge whether there’s interest in the way solution resolves it.

We first pursued a concept of “meeting buddy” that would help people comfortably join a recovery group.

This “buddy” would be matched with a person based preferences such as a matching age or gender, and guide people through finding and attending a support group meeting that was a good fit for them. We hypothesized that this would help young adults overcome the initial anxiety and discomfort of joining a recovery community. We verified this need and interest in this solution through interviews with our target demographic.

But then COVID-19 hit the US, and in-person meetings were shut down. We pivoted by re-focusing on online community building.

COVID-19 forced support groups that bonded over in-person socializing during and after meetings to move to Zoom, making it even more difficult to join such communities. To ideate ways we could facilitate online community building, we started looking at existing social media platforms and reimagined them so they were made specifically for people in recovery from addictions.

Refining the Solution

Our concept of “Twitch for Recovery” creates online recovery communities, helping young adults access support and manage their triggers.

Live streaming was popular amongst our research participants for the way its long-form content mirrored live support group meetings.

This platform reconstructs the traditional format of live support group meetings. It allows people to watch and participate in recovery content while staying anonymous, making it a much lower barrier to entry. This format also makes it easy to access relatable communities that resonate with one’s unique recovery goals and treatment methods.

We conducted moderated usability tests on our rough prototype to gather feedback and co-design future iterations.

Through these tests, we tested and got ideas for different features. For instance, we verified an interest in journaling, with even a couple people noting that the peer support group they attended recommended they journal. We also heard ethusiasm for the possibilities for recovery communities bonding over special interests, like art and gaming.

We designed LiveLine, a platform that addresses the needs of young adults with addiction through features including live streaming, journaling, and SOS support.

User Feedback &
next steps

“It’s video-based, it’s interactive, it’s modern, it has a balance of public and private - it really hits all the marks.”

- Anonymous research participant in recovery

This concept has gotten overwhelming positive feedback through user testing sessions with over a dozen people in recovery. We’re in the process of passing on our research and design to our clients, Oasis Recovery Center and Biomotivate, so they can make LiveLine a reality. There’s a lot more to research for LiveLine, such as content moderation and a full desktop version.

This experience taught me how I can co-design with a community as an outsider.

As someone who hasn’t been directly impacted by addiction, it was important for me to learn how I can involve those that are affected into the design of the platform. If I were to do anything differently, I would have narrowed our specific target audience earlier into the process to focus our research efforts and give us more time to explore our solution.

I also learned a lot about working with multiple client interests and collaborating long-term with my team. I genuinely had a blast working with my teammates, and am so thankful for our supportive culture as we worked through all the craziness 2020 brought to the world, and us personally. I hope to help foster this culture in future teams I work with :~)